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On this date in 1959 the state of Nebraska executed the death sentence upon Charles Starkweather, an admitted, notorious spree killer and mass murderer. Certainly, when “Charlie” (as he was known) was captured after a shootout in Douglas, Wyoming there was little doubt and by the end of his trial it was certain that he had committed a shocking and brutal series of murders in and around what was then a sleepy college town and state capitol, Lincoln, Nebraska. The only real question that remained through the trial, which persists to this day, is whether Caril Ann Fugate, whose family Charlie murdered, accompanied him willingly during his spree, whether she cooperated in or even committed some of the murders, or whether she was a hostage (as she later claimed) and suffered from Stockholm Syndrome wherein, in order to survive captivity, one comes to sympathize with one’s captors. Patty Hearst is a famous example of this syndrome.
The Starkweather case is notable for a number of reasons. First, because he is considered one of the fist of the modern spree killers and mass murderers. Second, because he was accompanied (willingly or unwillingly) by his 14-year old girlfriend. Third, because it symbolized to many a troubling undercurrent in the new rock and roll, rebellious youth culture that Charlie seemed to embrace and embody. A short, pugnacious, nasty, bow-legged, banty rooster of a teen, he posed as Lincoln’s answer to James Dean. He wore his hair like Dean, he strutted about with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his tee-shirt sleeve, his jeans rolled up a bit, and with a cigarette dangling from his pouting lips. Fourth, because of the way he selected his victims. Had anyone thought to commit a mass school shooting in 1958, Charlie would have been the guy to...
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